When you are in a car accident, one of the first things your insurance agent will do is review your policy to see what your coverage is. For most folks, the bulk of the policy is coverage for bodily injury. But when you ARE injured in a car accident and you wish to pursue a claim or lawsuit against the negligent driver, we refer to this action as a “personal injury” claim or lawsuit.
But these terms have different meanings, and understanding the difference is important. We want to break down those differences today so you can be better informed as you move through the process.
What is “bodily injury”?
Bodily injury is an insurance term. In basic North Carolina car insurance policy, you have coverage for bodily injury (physical injuries sustained by those involved) and property damages (like damage to a vehicle). When an individual is injured due to the negligence or actions of another party, they may file a claim against the at-fault party’s insurance to recoup losses associated with their injuries. This can include costs for hospital stays, medications, medical treatments, and more.
What is a “personal injury” claim or lawsuit?
Personal injury, on the other hand, is a distinct legal practice area. It encompasses a wide range of legal cases where individuals seek compensation for injuries, harm, or losses resulting from the negligence or intentional actions of others. Personal injury law covers various types of cases, but it also covers a wider array of losses, or damages:
- Medical expenses. This category covers all the costs associated with medical treatment, including hospital bills, surgeries, doctor’s visits, prescription medications, rehabilitation, and any other medical expenses incurred due to the injury.
- Lost wages. Economic damages encompass compensation for the income that is lost due to the injury. This can result from missed workdays, reduced work hours, or a temporary or permanent inability to work, which directly affects a person’s earning capacity.
- Property damage. While not always applicable, property damage falls under economic damages, including the cost of repairing or replacing damaged vehicles, personal belongings, or property as a result of the accident.
- Pain and suffering. These non-economic damages encompass the physical and emotional distress experienced due to the injury, such as pain, suffering, and the psychological trauma associated with the accident and its consequences.
- Emotional distress. Beyond physical pain and suffering, emotional distress damages cover the psychological impact, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from the injury.
- Loss of enjoyment of life. This category of damages compensates for the loss of the ability to participate in activities and hobbies that were enjoyed before the injury, significantly impacting one’s quality of life.
- Loss of consortium. Damages awarded to the spouse or family members of the injured party for the loss of companionship, care, and support due to the injury. This category acknowledges the strain on relationships and family life caused by the injury.
- Funeral and/or burial costs. In the unfortunate event of a fatality resulting from the injury, you can seek compensation for any associated funeral or burial costs as well as loss of financial support and the emotional toll on surviving family members.
- Punitive damages. These damages, though rare, are designed to punish the at-fault party for gross negligence or intentional harm and to deter similar behavior in the future. They serve as a deterrent rather than direct compensation for the injured party.
Economic damages are quantifiable and relate to financial losses, while non-economic damages address the intangible, emotional, and quality-of-life impact resulting from the injury. Each category plays a crucial role in seeking fair compensation for the various facets of harm experienced.
Why do I need bodily injury coverage if someone else is paying for my losses?
First of all, you need bodily injury coverage because it’s required by North Carolina law that all drivers have insurance. Basic auto insurance policies here provide coverage for both bodily injury and property damage under the umbrella of “liability coverage.” So as long as you follow the law, you automatically receive this coverage under your policy. In the event that you cause an accident which leads to someone else’s injuries, your insurance coverage will pay those bills.
The other reason why you need this coverage is because you have to purchase basic liability coverage to purchase uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage – and this is absolutely something you want to do.
If you are injured in a crash with an uninsured or underinsured driver, it is your own policy which will pay out the claim. But you cannot purchase just this supplemental coverage; you must have (at least) a basic liability policy in place.
How much bodily injury coverage should I have?
The North Carolina Department of Insurance states: “The minimum coverage requirements are $30,000 Bodily Injury for each person, $60,000 total Bodily Injury for all persons in an accident and $25,000 for Property Damage.”
This means that if you are in an accident where another driver is at fault, and you file a bodily injury claim with their insurance, you may expect to receive those amounts. Given the average cost of a hospital stay, however, these limits may not be enough. In such a case, your own policy could help supplement any additional costs you face.
What can affect the total payout of my Charlotte car accident claim?
First and foremost, the type of claim you file can affect the total award. If you agree to a settlement with the insurance company without consulting a Charlotte car accident lawyer first, the chances are very good that your total award will be lower. This is because insurance companies exist to make money, and they rarely offer a fair or just settlement. When you have legal counsel, however, those same companies may be more likely to offer a higher initial amount, because they recognize that you’re willing to fight for what is best for you.
The location of the accident and the specific jurisdiction in which you’re filing your claim can also play a role. Different jurisdictions have different laws and regulations governing personal injury claims. Some operate under “no-fault” systems that limit your ability to file a lawsuit, while others, such as North Carolina, adhere to fault-based systems (at-fault states) where the question of liability plays a significant role. The venue where your lawsuit is filed can also affect the outcome; some courts may be more favorable to plaintiffs in personal injury cases than others. Generally speaking, jurisdiction becomes a larger concern in cases involving commercial vehicles, where the company is based in a different state, or where the driver who hit you is from out-of-state. Our attorneys have plenty of experience with both of these scenarios, so we are prepared to help.
The extent of your injuries is a fundamental factor in determining the compensation you may receive. More severe injuries often result in higher compensation.
Lost wages due to your injuries can also significantly impact your claim. If your injuries prevent you from working and earning income, you have the right to seek compensation for the wages you’ve lost during your recovery period. The duration and impact of your inability to work are important factors that affect the amount of compensation you may receive.
Non-economic damages like pain and suffering, emotional distress, and the loss of enjoyment of life are more subjective in nature and can vary based on the unique circumstances of your case. How you experience and cope with the physical and emotional repercussions of the injury can influence the overall damages you may be entitled to in a personal injury claim.
There are many factors that can affect how much you can claim in your lawsuit. That is why consulting with a personal injury attorney who can navigate these complexities and advocate for your rights is a good idea. At Price, Petho & Associates, we understand how tricky insurance policies and the legal process can be. We are experienced in handling personal injury claims and lawsuits for car crash victims and their loved ones. To schedule your free consultation to discuss your options, please call our office or complete our contact form today. We have offices in Charlotte, Rockingham, and Rutherfordton for your convenience.
Attorney Doug Petho is the owner and founder of Price, Petho & Associates. His primary focus is the litigation of plaintiff’s personal injury suits, and he has successfully tried hundreds of cases to jury verdict involving car accidents, trucking accidents, pedestrian accidents, slip and fall accidents, and work-related accidents. Contact his office in Charlotte today.